Saturday, February 21, 2009

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned From a Crossword Puzzle

Oh sure, life on the grid is a great way to boost vocabulary. I can tell you about rocky outcroppings ("tors"), mine openings ("adits"), and Italian spewers ("Etna"). I feel genuinely sorry for those whose fame lives on solely through puzzles (Peter Fonda as "Ulee", Crying Game's Steven "Rea", and musician "Satie." For those aspiring to greatness, my advice: Change your name to include a lot of vowels.

We've all heard that a crossword puzzle a day keeps Alzheimers at bay. (Non-puzzlers, not to worry. I've also heard that 15 minutes of face-to-face conversation does the same thing.) Still, there must be something that keeps me coming back every morning, Sundays, and the Thursday NYT special in the Post's Preview section.

Solving the puzzle reminds me that sometimes you have to look at problems from all angles. Stuck in one corner? Let it go. Start in a different place and you'll eventually work your way back.

Be fearless! I solve in pen because I like the way it feels on newsprint and its contrast that pencil lacks. But what about mistakes? I cross them out and keep going. Arriving at a solution isn't always neat and tidy.

Is it cheating to head to google or wikipedia for help? Does this taint the success of the day? Not if I learn something that will help me the next time around. Puzzles teach you to manage your resources.

In puzzle-land, Monday puzzles are the easiest. Sometimes I put myself in speed-solving mode and other times I solve just using the down clues. This teaches me to always look for ways to improve.

When the squares don't make sense and the letters don't fit, I have to humble myself and admit I might be wrong. I have to let go of my determination to be correct and start over. Beating my head against the puzzle, won't get me anywhere.

Walk away. If nothing makes sense, then letting my brain rest is often the best solution to reach a solution. Amazing how often a fresh start offers an "aha!" moment.

For a cruciverbalist, life has its acrosses and downs, but nothing beats the satisfaction of filling in that very last empty square.


southerninspiration said...

You're my word puzzle hero!


EuroMom said...

What a fun post! I learned something new about you. Jeopardy and crossword puzzles. Who knew?

Beth in Texas said...

When I was in college, I had a group of friends with whom I did the NYT crossword puzzle every day. The week before the GREs, we all took a break from the puzzles and just put them in a pile to do after the test on Saturday. In the meantime, we studied together. By Friday night we were fried and decided to just relax with a glass of wine and started working through our pile of puzzles. There were 3 words we didn't know the meaning of -- either clues or answers that were on the GRE the next day. :-) My favorite was quixotical, with the clue being "impractically idealistic". The whole exercise probably raised my verbal GRE points by 50 points or so. I haven't really done the puzzles since college. Maybe I should start up again to keep the brain working properly.